Here is a great post at makezine, describing how Paul Marlier at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh has put together a “set of wooden blocks with electronics on them that museum visitors can connect up in any way they like”. Inspired by this, I recently put together a similar set of wooden blocks for my son Ethan, aged 5.
I had an electronic set (like one of these) as a kid in the mid-80’s, and it was great fun. But as Paul says in the Makezine article, he “chose this simple design over commercial products because he wanted to emphasize that these are just parts that anyone could find and put together”. I agree, as these commercial sets, like the one I had as a kid, hide away all the bare components, and in the process, add a level of magic, further distancing you from what’s going on under the hood. This subtly further ingrains the belief that what’s going on under the hood is too complicated to understand, and encourages kids to assume that nicely packaged sealed components are better to use that the basic electronic components. (Of course, I’m ignoring the fact that all those “basic electronic components” are themselves often amazingly complicated devices sealed and packaged themselves – but I hope you see the point).
So, did Ethan enjoy it? I would challenge you to find any 5 year old boy who wouldn’t like to pick up a jumble of wires, LEDs and a “missile” switch, and go for it!